It was the easiest decision to make: I could either go to the famous Mercedes-Benz museum, and just be one of the 700,000-plus visitors it receives annually, or I could visit the less popular Pig Museum, which attracts around 45,000 visitors every year.
For an ardent pork lover like me this was a no-contest; parting from other group members who headed to the car museum, I ambled through the Schweine Museum in Stuttgart, the largest pig museum in the world.
Opened in 2010, in the administration building of a former slaughterhouse, the museum encompasses 29 rooms spread over two floors, a restaurant on the ground floor and an alfresco beer garden.
The majority of the porcine art and kitsch exhibits are from the personal collection of the Museum Director and owner Erika Wilhelmer, who started collecting the pieces 35 years ago. Today, the museum has around 45,000 pieces of which about 35,000 are on display.
In the last few years, as people have become aware of the museum, Wilhelmer has received pieces from visitors from across the globe. The largest exhibit, for instance, the 13-meter-long, pig-faced, pink-tram that sits in the car park just outside, was donated by Baselland Transport from Switzerland. A few days before we visited, a Chinese police officer donated six pieces that she had been trying to acquire for a few years.
Each of the rooms is centred on a certain theme, and the one I found most fascinating is dedicated to butchery. The tiny room has an array of tools and exquisitely detailed table-top displays of butcher shops with miniature cleavers, cutting blocks, hanging legs of ham, racks of ribs and even ready pies. An oddly cannibalistic sketch has a classroom scene of a pig pointing to a poster depicting the various cuts of pig to a class of inattentive piglets.
Another room is devoted to the wild pig in its natural habitat with woodland sounds playing in the background. A life-size pig skeleton is the centre piece of the pig laboratory which showcases the anatomy of pigs. One room is devoted to 2000 piggy banks, another to a 2.5 metre-high pyramid of cuddly pig soft toys, while yet another to representations of pigs in different countries. Each piece in the museum, however, is unique and no two pieces are the same.
Among the more bizarre displays in the art room is a mixed media work of a Christ-of-the-Andes like figure providing a final benediction to a lemming-like mass of pigs throwing themselves off a cliff. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, you discover a discreet adult-only area devoted to bawdy in flagrante delicto exhibits, including some BDSM-inspired, pig-headed, female figurines in studs and leather outfits.
Apart from the theme rooms, every nook and cranny of the building is filled with porcine pieces or references. On the staircase walls are painted the words or symbols for pig in different languages including Morse code.
At the end of the tour, what strikes you most is how deep, and ancient, the connection between man and pigs is and the extent to which it is part of cultures globally. It’s something to mull over the next time you tuck into a slice of bacon or a nice, fat sausage.